Saturday, July 31, 2010


So my chapbook manuscript was summarily rejected about 3 hours after I submitted it yesterday.

On the one hand, the quick turn-around time meant that I could get it out to another press in advance of their deadline, which is today, July 31st. 

On the other, it created a sucking black hole of inertia in the center of my chest. 

I know, I know--if you get thrown off, you get back on. And I will. The hardest part is trying to figure out whether I'm riding the wrong horse: I've spent so much time on this manuscript, and almost no time on my journal article, that if I don't manage to find a place to publish the chapbook, I might be screwing myself out of tenure. I'm planning to take the article materials with me when I go up north for our family vacation (nothing like a working vacation, I always say), so perhaps I'll get enough done to send it out at the end of August.

The thing that sucks the most about this rejection is that after I paid a $15 reading fee, the only thing the editor said was "I'm sorry I cannot use this ms." Well, that's helpful. What's wrong with it? What can I do to make it better? Thanks for nothing. I can understand a form rejection for a contest submission (and I've got 3 of those so far) but this was more of a blow-off than I'd expected. Of course, since I've never submitted the damn thing to an actual editor, just to contests, maybe this is the way it's done. 

So, back to the drawing board.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I have spent the better part of the day in Ohio. Not physically, but metaphorically. Spiritually. I have dived into the well of memory, and come up sputtering.

Well, not exactly.

As part of my research, I found the farm where we used to buy our hay, and found a website devoted to abandoned buildings in Ohio that had great shots of the now-defunct Jaite Paper Mill, which was just down the road from my house. My mom and I used to ride our horses on the towpath (Ohio and Erie Canal) from what is now called "Red Lock" on Highland Road to Boston Mills, up Stanford Road, and back past Brandywine Falls. The towpath is now part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park but back in the late '70s and early '80s, we were basically trespassing on land owned by the state. It was an all-day ride but it was probably only 4 or 5 miles total.

I was able to completely re-work a poem I had written 13 years ago for a writing workshop at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which will hereafter be referred to as the $chool, since I will be 70 before I am done paying the loans I took out to go there. Not joking.

I re-worked another one, same thing. This one came out of a trip to an old boyfriend's family-owned tree farm. I wonder if he'll ever read it. Probably not.

Both have been submitted to an editor for consideration for an anthology on growing up in Ohio. The deadline is August 1st. Today is July 29th. It is also the first day I have had almost completely to myself in over a month. I worked all day(10:00am to 4:30pm) on TWO POEMS (and yes, I'm including my web-surfing because I had to gently jog my memory).

And I'm proud. The original poems were absolutely abysmal. Total crap. They will never ever be read by another human being as long as I am alive, and I'm thinking I might have them burned with me when I'm cremated.

And I managed to get something decent out of them, so I'm pretty happy about that.

I also called Pudding House Press, paid the reading fee for my chapbook manuscript in advance, and will now spend tomorrow tweaking the poems (and maybe adding one or two) before I send it out.

I hope that Pudding House will publish the chapbook. They published Chuck Rybak's Liketown and several other of my colleagues recommended the press as one that might like my work. The fact that Chuck likes my work gives me hope for the future. Chuck is awesome.

I am filled with raw energy--I feel alive and vital and creative. I wish I could bottle this feeling for the days I am confronted with various and sundry forms of stupidity. For the days when I am confronted by not one but two shrieking and unhappy offspring. For the days when I am confronted with a stack of papers that reaches to my kneecaps.

You know...normal days.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On the Hunt (for Daycare)

So my previous daycare closed on May 21st after more than thirty years of being in business. The tech school to which it was attached decided arbitrarily, with no input from the director or anyone else, that it could no longer afford to operate the daycare portion, though it functioned as a lab for their Early Childhood Education students.  The teachers were great, and the kids were supremely well-cared for, which is all you can hope for when you leave your child in someone else's care. It's a long sad story, perhaps for another post.

It's also the second time in two years I've had to find another daycare. 

After my initial panic, and a look at the list of "accredited" daycares in my area, inertia set in. I just could not force myself to try to find a place to put Thing Two. My options in my area are severely limited due to the closing of three highly-regarded programs for "financial reasons."

Today I toured a place that is on the way to Thing One's elementary school. It seems to be OK--and was recommended by Thing One's former 4-K teacher. My only objection at the moment is to the overt "Jesus" messages on the walls. I'm not a Christian, and I'm not raising either Thing to be religious, though I will teach them both about what's out there when they're old enough to understand. In some ways, the new daycare isn't much different from the Salvation Army Child Care Center, which is where Thing One spent her days from the time she was 3 months old until the Center closed just after she finished 4K. Thing Two is too young for the messages to mean anything anyway.

The children seemed happy, the ratio is 4 to 1 (child/teacher) and the rooms were bright and clean, so I guess I will pay them $170 per week to look after Thing Two, and be grateful that they had an opening.

On a related note, I have been thinking that since a significant part of the work we're supposed to do for tenure comes during the summer, when none of us are being paid to do anything, much less work 20+ hours/week on PD, universities should make PD funds available to parents to help subsidize the cost of daycare.

I can hear the screaming from single/non-breeder TT folks now: what about us? Well, what about you? Daycare is an expense that comes out of our salary during the regular contract year--by my calculation, it's 1/6th of my take-home pay. Every month. During the summer, I do not have a contract, nor do I have an income; ergo, I do not have money to pay someone to watch my children so that I can match (or dare I say exceed) S/NBTT PDO (professional development output).[To my S/NBTT friends: I do not mean this in a derogatory way. I actually envy most of you.] 

I have made the mistake of trying to get work done without help--and now that the hammer is poised to shatter my 20-year dream of being a professor, I'm forced to acknowledge that getting tenure with children is basically an impossibility--for me--without help from family.

My father-in-law retired in June, and so far the kids have gone to stay with them once for a few days so that I could make some sense out of the chaos that masquerades as my office and get a bit of research done for my article. They're going again tomorrow to stay Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday, and I'll be spending 8-10 hours in my office on campus both days scrambling to get things ready to send out prior to the August 1st deadline. Nothing quite like the pressure of waiting 'til the last minute... I'm lucky that Dad retired this year instead of sticking it out another year, because there would be no hope for me.

What do people do? How do you function in the summer with no access to childcare?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Perspektiv: I Haz It

The weekend was really good--I was able to get back on an even keel with Thing One. She's really an amazing kid--smart, funny, and full of energy. I'm a lucky mom to have her. 

Right now, I'm watching Thing Two demolish a slice of watermelon from his perch on the chair at the kitchen table--a perch he has learned to climb this past week. Further grey hairs are on their way.

I missed my department summer gathering this weekend--we just had too many projects going on around here. Hubby is building a kiln to dry lumber, and our garden and yard were in sore need of some tending.

So we spent the weekend together, and it was good. When I imagined married life with kids, this weekend was what I pictured: working on separate projects, then coming together to chat and eat and just be. Sunday morning involved me getting to sleep in until 8:00, rising for coffee and time to write on the deck before having blueberry pancakes. 

I had a brainstorm of ideas for a YA novel just before I fell asleep on Saturday night, and have filled 4 pages of my 9x12 sketchbook with ideas, including a rough outline for the plot.

Considering that I haven't ever written anything longer than a 6-page short story (once) and my usual medium is poetry, this represents a major change and challenge.  It is going to require quite a bit of research (which I will confess right now is very appealing to me) and collaboration with hubby, whose knowledge of woodsmithing, metallurgy, and machinery will be invaluable.

Coming as it does during the final stage of my bid for tenure, I am wondering if my brain is trying to sabotage me. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for an MFA in Creative Writing 13 years ago, and NOW I have good ideas?! ARGH.

In other news, I will be sending out my chapbook again at the end of the week, along with a couple of poems for an upcoming anthology about growing up in Ohio. Hopefully at least one of the Ohio poems will be accepted. 

I grew up one mile from Brandywine Falls.  If you're ever in the Cleveland/Akron area, you definitely should check it out. 

And now, back to my regularly scheduled programming: laundry, dishes, prepping dinner (since we'll be at Thing One's very first swimming lesson tonight!), and playing with Thing One and Thing Two.

Life is very, very good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Motivation, or Lack Thereof

Today was pretty much a bust in the doing-things department. It was overcast/intermittently raining (after 2.2" yesterday) and humid and 75 degrees at 6:45 this morning, so that wasn't the best start to the day. Hubby only left me one lousy cup of coffee when he left for work, and I was too lazy/unmotivated to make more.

Got one load of laundry (Thing Two's) done. Well, washed, anyway. It'll make it into the dryer before it has a chance to mold, if only because he's completely out of shorts.

His mama's out of sorts.

I'm so tired of dealing with Thing One's 6 going-on-15 attitude. I don't enjoy being home, and it kills me to admit it. I'm supposed to be happy to be at home--lots of parents (moms and dads alike) would love to have the summer to spend at home, but not me. Nooooo. If I could afford it, I'd send her to summer camp, which she would probably like better than being with me anyway. Thing Two is a mama's boy, so no problem there, except that he's learning from his sister. Her attitude is, to quote Garth from Wayne's World, "sucking my will to live."

I'm starting to wonder if she has ODD, because she argues with me about E V E R Y T H I N G. Literally. Not joking. We had lunch today with one of my former students, and at one point she turned to me and said "Wow, she has an answer for everything, doesn't she?"

It's exhausting. I finally let her watch The Princess and the Frog while her brother and I took a nap this afternoon, and when we got up, it started all over again. I can't be out of the room for more than 10 seconds when Thing Two starts yelling "No, no!" She won't leave him alone and she argues the finer points of what she's done, and argues about how long she'll have to be in Time Out.

I used to joke that I was raising the next U.S. Attorney General, but it's starting to not be funny anymore.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fire Code Violations, etc.

Spent four hours in my office on campus last night, going through piles of folders and papers and recycling like a madwoman. What's weird is that I honestly enjoy doing it. 

When I was in college, I couldn't write a paper or study for an exam until I had done my laundry and straightened/alphabetized my cassettes (yep, I'm old) and the few CDs I owned. I had to clean, because it seemed integral to getting my mind in order, too. I can think and work in chaos (witness my office, cited for fire code violations for "housekeeping--storage of material on the floor" last week) but as I clean, I have ideas for papers and poems, which then have to be hastily scribbled in my notebook (my "planner" where I keep track of what I've been doing all semester so that I can write my Faculty Activity Report--more on that later). 

The only problem is that by the time I get back around to reading the notebook, deadlines have come and gone, and the ideas are shelved. Case in point: I missed completely the Midwest Modern Language Association deadlines for special sessions because I was so wound up in sending out my chapbook for various contests this spring (none of which panned out, sadly). This especially sucks because when I last checked the site, they hadn't come up with a conference theme. I looked last night, and the theme is TERROR. Crap. As soon as I saw it, I had a flood of ideas (like a panel on the current vampire craze--I'd have called it "The Pleasures of Terror: Eric, Edward, Angel, Spike, et al" or something like that--but someone already did a similar one, so that's good). At least the conference is in Chicago this year, so I can hopefully crash at a friend's place and attend the conference anyway.

Professional development is my bugaboo at this point. I did really well up through my third year review--attending conferences, getting an essay published as a book chapter--but I was also having some health problems that were making life difficult. In April 2008, I was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on my jaw joints (I have TMJ and couldn't open my mouth wider than a few inches at that point). I was prepped for surgery when the nurse came in to announce that they couldn't do the surgery, since my pro forma pregnancy test had in fact come back positive.


I got through the summer with my steadily expanding belly, but not before my [now former] Dean approached me to ask me if I could continue as ESFY coordinator since I was pregnant [this was before I had officially announced it]. The short answer was YES. The long answer is a post for another time.

Fall semester started, and my back problems increased along with my girth. I had had a proposal accepted to the MMLA conference in Nov. 2008. I was due in December. My OB wouldn't let me fly, and I had planned to drive to Minneapolis. Cue severe back pain a week before the conference, coupled with a nasty cold. I had to back out at the last minute.

Thing Two was born on December 19th. He weighed in at 8 lbs 15 oz, so no surprise re: back issues.

OK. My department letter that year (4th year) had a split vote (7-4) which really made the chair nervous, since she likes me and wants to see me succeed. The main concern is that I wasn't producing any writing. OK, fair enough. But since I have an MFA in Creative Writing (poetry), my output is a bit different, and to work I need blocks of uninterrupted time. Where am I going to get those? Cf the previous post--I work more than 40 hours a week on my job, and the only other place to get more hours is out of my family life.

Thing One is now 6, and Thing Two is 19 months. Neither of them is self-sufficient in the entertainment department. In fact, I spend much of my time these days keeping Thing One from making Thing Two's life miserable. Thing One doesn't want to play by herself, despite boxes full of Barbies, art supplies, a wooden dollhouse, a train set, and more books that you can shake a stick at. She wants to bug her brother (I know--this is what siblings do) but it means, essentially, that I cannot work during the day. I am writing this while Thing Two is ostensibly taking a nap (I can hear him howling, so I'm going to have to cut this short). Thing One is actually playing with her Play-doh on the kitchen table, for once. 

The hubby leaves for work at 6:15 and gets home between 5:30 and 6:00. The kids are in bed by 7 or 7:30. I am in bed by 9:00 (and sometimes 7:30) because I get up at 5:00 am with Thing One. I have no energy to write or think hard or read complex, jargon-loaded journal articles. I can barely carry on a coherent conversation with the only other human being in my house over the age of 6. 

I know I have colleagues who produce, even under conditions such as these. I just don't know how. I think they must give up sleep, which is the one thing I can't do, since a lack of sleep leads directly to migraines. 

Rock, meet Hard Place. Hard Place, meet Rock. Now go smack Mamalayne really hard upside the head.


So I'm off to tackle the pile of laundry in the basement, and rescue Thing Two from his unjust imprisonment in his crib. 

And the four hours in my office last night? Heaven. I got the floor almost completely free of folders, and started going through the filing cabinets, so now the Fire Department can relax.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Midway Through the Summer

It's nearly the end of July. Woke up to more rain/fog, which has thankfully begun to burn off.

Thing One is at my feet looking through the movies I spilled onto the floor while updating my new profile. Thing Two is napping; otherwise, I would not be able to write this.

I titled the blog "This Academic Life" because I am an assistant professor in my last few months of a tenure bid. I do not know how it is going to turn out. My votes have been uncomfortably close for the past two years (not coincidentally, Thing Two was born 19 months ago, on the last day of my finals). I love my job. Well, I love most aspects of my job, which makes me way luckier than most people. I love teaching, I love meeting with students, and as sick as it may sound, I love meetings with my colleagues (not just in my department, but across my campus as well).

That last part is partly why I am in the precarious position today--I over-extended myself on committee obligations (chairing committees during a tenure bid is not something I would recommend), which left me with no time and little energy for writing.

The Inside Higher Ed blogger Kerry Ann Rockquemore has an advice column called "Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul". Some of what she has to say is common sense (but since when did anyone in academia have a surplus of that??). Some of it doesn't take into account a variety of factors. Consider this post in which she gives parameters for a 40-hour work week. Her 40-hour work week is 20 hours for research and writing; the rest divided into hours for teaching (12) and prep (she gives 4) and committee/service obligations.

Nowhere in that post does she make time for grading. I do not have a TA upon whom I can dump 66 3-5 page papers that need to be graded within 10 "working" days. So if I want to have a 40-hour week (and I SO want one), I have to "eat" hours out of something else. Can't eat them out of class time. Can't eat them out of prep, since my courses get tweaked almost every semester to make them better. Can't eat them out of service. So I guess I'll eat them out of writing time. Guess how many hours it takes to grade 66 papers? Give up?

About 21 hours, give or take.

That's right. The papers vary widely in both content and quality, and each must be carefully read (once for content, once for quality). Each must have comments written both on the paper itself, and on a rubric given back with the paper.

She also left out office hours (6 per week) but I guess since a lot of us do prep at that time, those qualify as multi-tasking hours.

What about the summer? you ask.

Great question!

I have two children under age 6, and I don't get paid over the summer. Guess what that means? It means that I'm home from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm with two small children. Have you ever tried to write anything coherent while being chattered at by a 6 yr old and a 19 month old? No? It's an exercise in futility.

Then the NY Times comes out with

What if College Tenure Dies?

And I'm sitting here...

Ah well. I'm gainfully employed (for now) and I have managed to get some writing done in the past few weeks. The kids are going to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a few days next week, and I will have time to work on my article. I even have a place to send it, so hopefully all will be well.